What More UK – What More Could You Ask For?
Despite experiencing turbulent times the last time we spoke with them, What More UK is undergoing an exciting period of investment and growth.
What More UK has had quite the journey, starting out with only 13 products on offer in their catalogue, today What More UK’s offering numbers over 1,700 products, which are available at major retailers throughout the UK and 72 other countries.
When we last talked with Tony Grimshaw, the Director of What More UK, the company, and indeed the British manufacturing sector as a whole, had been experiencing difficult times thanks to economic, political and Brexit uncertainty.
“It’s a lack in confidence,” Grimshaw told us in 2018. “The problem with high street retailing in general is it’s falling like flies at the moment. House of Frasier announced they would drop fifty stores. Everyone’s trying to keep the powder dry and not overstretch themselves.”
What More UK, however, has addressed these challenges by continuing to invest in and grow the business, and Grimshaw is sounding decidedly more upbeat when we speak to him today.
“The last couple of years have been successful. We have continued with our investment. Over the last four-and-a-half years we have invested £25 million in our structure, machinery and products,” he tells us. “The investment is ongoing and that’s reflected in the success we’ve had over the last few years. We have continued to grow; we are in 73 countries and within those countries we have developed new customers as well. It’s been exceptional.”
Challenges and Opportunities
That is not to say that the problems Grimshaw told us about during our last discussion have disappeared. Indeed, anyone who has opened a newspaper in the last couple of years knows the ongoing uncertainty around the UK’s status in the EU continues to be a real problem for businesses.
“Our major challenge hasn’t been exports; it’s been internal sales. Within the UK buyers have been very reluctant to place orders because of the current situation,” Grimshaw admits.
However, these very challenges are beginning to create opportunities of their own.
“The situation being the way it is has also helped us because a lot of purchasers that would have gone abroad people are now looking for manufacturers in the UK to strengthen their supply line,” Grimshaw explains. “Although our business is increasing, we’re not taking it from competitors in the UK but from competitors in China and elsewhere. A lot of orders that would have gone to China now go to UK manufacturers.”
At the same time as expanding geographically, What More UK is also expanding into new markets, as Grimshaw tells us, “About four years ago we bought a bakeware company. It had gone into liquidation and we bought the machinery and moulds taking us into metal as well as plastic. We also needed the expertise to run the machinery and maintain it. That had gone with the company when it was liquidated so we had to find those people and bring them into our company. We went in search for the key people and brought them into the company that took a while.”
Turning that equipment and talent into a working, viable arm of the business was no small task and required a great deal of investment, but investment has always been a strong part What More UK’s strategy.
“The machinery took a lot of work to get it up to standard, and we faced similar challenges with the moulds. We ended up redesigning the whole catalogue with new moulds and invested £1 million in a tool room,” Grimshaw says. “We now design our own tools and manufacture them, so it’s a brilliant situation for our buyers. The larger retailers can even come in and design their own ranges so they love that.”
While Grimshaw does not deny the effort required to enter this new market sector, it is effort that is already seeing dividends. This year the bakeware sector of the business saw sales increase by 50%.
“The bakeware is a superb addition to our range,” Grimshaw says. “With more in-depth penetration to the housewares business, combined with the new bakeware products, we’re offering a full range with everything from planters to baking trays. That has been a significant contribution. Next year we’ve already taken onboard new customers, that growth will continue.”
Spreading the Word
To find these new markets What More UK works hard to get the word out about the products they can offer and the standards their work lives up to.
“We invest heavily in exhibitions and conventions. We have a large stand at Ambiente and do a lot of work prior to the exhibition. We send postcards to buyers all over the world at the beginning and end of December and January to generate interest,” Grimshaw says. “The stand itself generates a lot of footfall.”
What More UK doesn’t have any grand strategy regarding the new markets and regions it intends to move into, but they are continually aware of areas they can improve their performance.
“For instance, around Africa we’re pretty light at the moment,” Grimshaw says. “We have South Africa, but we want to generate more interest in that region.”
What is certain, talking to Grimshaw, is that when we next speak to him What More UK will have once again grown and improved.
“It’s ongoing, you can’t stand still,” he says. “For instance, the reason we can compete globally is the fact we have state-of-the-art manufacturing. Our wages are above the living wage, but even the living wage in the UK is a lot compared to some places in the world. So, to compete we have to have the best machinery. We have spent £25 million refurbishing the whole plant. There is no machinery in the plant older than three years. On the plastics side we have got 24 state-of-the-art machines. On the bakeware and cookware side we just purchased our first brand new machine. It is a fully automated machine. You put metal in one side and a packed, labelled product comes out the other. That’ll be an ongoing process bringing in brand new machinery now that sales justify the investment.”
When Grimshaw talks about investment, however, he is clear that he is not just talking about new equipment.
“Our investment is not only in machinery. It is also in the people that work with us. That is an important element,” he reflects. “Without the people we haven’t got a company.”